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How we did it

A Carlisle primary aims to boost children's learning by giving them experiences they don't get outside school, says Lucy Vaughan

Until autumn 2000, Petteril Bank was in special measures. But, according to an inspection in February, we've made major improvements.

The Ofsted report says teachers have a clear understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the school; the consistently good teaching in the early years unit and the rest of key stage 1 is having a positive impact on achievement; and good systems are in place for checking attendance, behaviour, personal development and attainment, and progress.

In 2001, the school received an achievement award from the DfES. Last year, we were named in the top 100 improving schools in England. But our attainment level is still low - and we know we have got a long way to go.

For example, standards in English and mathematics and provision in ICT were highlighted as areas for improvement.

I joined the school in September last year. Initially, coming out of special measures was due to a lot of input and effort from the education authority and our staff. Our strategy focused on behaviour management.

We're in a deprived area and the children have poor social skills. There's a lot of unemployment, anti-social behaviour, and drugs - which have had an impact on them.

Pupils have a low learning skills base, and moving them forward has been difficult. We never had back-up; parents didn't feel comfortable coming to the school to discuss their children. We've worked hard to make them realise we value their contribution, and that has helped enormously.

We now have a strong behaviour policy. We have guidelines for parents, and a consistent approach throughout the school. That has affected the children's learning and enabled us to do what we should be doing.

We're making sure the curriculum is balanced for these children, and I'm interested in children being given as many opportunities as possible.

Our pupils have few of the kind of experiences that enrich life and fire the imagination. They don't go to the theatre, they don't go to the cinema, they can't really afford to go anywhere, so they have no experiences to draw upon, for example, for creative writing. Thus I'm interested in trying to get theatre groups to visit the school, have storytellers to show them the magic of reading, visitors to enrich their lives. There are grants available for such activities, which I apply for.

We have all become bogged down in teaching literacy and numeracy. We are told we have to do this, and the advantages are great. But occasionally we have to tailor the curriculum to the children's needs. Our curriculum is broad and balanced; there's a lot of personal, social and health education, and a lot of citizenship. We've adopted Philosophy for Children, a recognised programme from the Society for the Advancement of Philosophical Enquiry and Reflection in Education, as a means of sharing experiences and developing inquiry. The children think of a question, ask it, and we develop it from there. The response has been wonderful; the pupils are getting a lot more confident in speaking and listening.

Unfortunately, we have had a huge turnover of staff. Teachers come in, get trained to do all these things, then leave. We have had to keep starting from scratch. But now staff are beginning to settle in and settle down, and the balance is being restored.

Lucy Vaughan is headteacher at Petteril Bank primary school in Carlisle, Cumbria. She was talking to Martin Whittaker. Do you have a success story to share? Email:

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